Hammersmith & Fulham Council: Thames Music Makers - educating children about climate through music

Partnering with the English Chamber Orchestra’s Close Encounters team, Urbanwise.London, and Fulham Academy Trust, Hammersmith & Fulham Council co-designed a musical exploration of the Thames, which saw six local primary schools explore its ecology and history. In addition, through creating musical instruments from recycled materials, children got to experience first-hand how they can reuse and recycle everyday products for alternative uses.

The challenge

Hammersmith & Fulham Council wanted to teach children the value of recycling, sustainability, and materials, in an engaging and exciting way that allowed them to explore how materials can be used beyond their original purpose.

They faced organisational challenges around funding for curriculum input, planning, development of workshops, rehearsal spaces, focus target group and final concert venue.

The solution

The Council decided to use musical themes representing climate and ecology. This included an instrument making workshop with each participating primary school, with the instruments being made from recycled materials collected by the children, including egg cartons, straws, cardboard boxes, and plastic bottles.

They wanted to maintain the creativity whilst offering a supportive curriculum. To enable this to happen they co-designed the programme with the world-renowned English Chamber Orchestra (ECO), Urbanwise.London and Fulham Academy Trust. This partnership saw its foundation in their Summer in the City 21 programme where the ECO ran weekly sessions over five weeks of outdoor workshops in Ravenscourt Park, focused on climate and ecology musical themes. This led to further discussions around partnership working and ultimately, The Thames Music Makers.

They continued to strengthen their engagement with schools, business, children and families to gain community support, and recruited primary schools for the project through their Climate Education Network and other link primary schools, via Urbanwise.

The orchestra were funded to run the workshops with funding from Barratt Foundation which when combined with S106 funding (ringfenced for climate education), created the budget needed for curriculum input, workshop space and a concert venue. Urbanwise were commissioned to deliver the project. Fulham Academy Trust provided the venue for primary workshops over six days and Riverside Trust agreed to host the concert.

All these activities culminated in the Thames Music Makers Concert. The ECO with support from the Barratt Foundation, performed this concert at the Riverside Studios. All participating primary schools attended along with three budding violinists from Fulham Cross Girls School and the ECO took a musical tour through 400 years of the Thames, with key musical works illustrating this journey and, a performance of the Mudlarks song, newly orchestrated by the ECO and performed by the primary pupils.

The impact

The children on the project showed a greater interest and understanding about recycling and reusing materials. The Council believes it will inspire some children and young people to pursue creative and green careers.

Quotes from the children

  • “I think this project is exciting and it’s even helping our planet.”
  • “I haven’t seen any performance like this before.”
  • “It’s a good experience to play with musicians who have been in the industry for a long time and to involve primary school children it also influences them to join the industry as well."

Quotes from the teachers

  • “I really like the idea that this is about recycling and about creating something out of something that is already there, it’s really key and really important for them.”
  • “It’s been so incredible for them to learn from music specialists I just think it’s a rich opportunity and I am a crier, so it’s just moved me!”

The Council have developed strong partnerships within the community with organisations such as the Fulham Academy Trust and Riverside Studios. They have kindly offered the council venues either free of charge or at reduced cost.

The project featured on the Hammersmith & Fulham and ECO websites and created a buzz across the borough.

Relationships were strengthened across schools, particularly secondary and primary links.

The project was also linked with the Council's Mudlarks and Storymakers projects enabling further support for other key climate education and creative projects.

The programme created a month's worth of work for people within the creative industry, who during the pandemic had struggled to gain employment.

How is the new approach being sustained?

The Council are negotiating an ongoing relationship with the orchestra to support children and young people in Hammersmith & Fulham through other partnership work, via an EU Project and Summer in The City 22.

The project saw the development of a high-quality Film and an orchestrated Mudlarks Song. Written with a local primary school and sung at every Mudlarks event, the song has been the Council's climate and ecology campaigning song for the last three years. It is sung by children and young people at community events, and it will be sung at the grand opening of the new sustainably built Hammersmith & Fulham Civic Campus

The Council have also planned to reach out to other partners to ensure they have the resources and funding to keep working with more primary schools. They would like to work with other councils, particularly to expand the programme to other areas of London.

Lessons learned

Planning and partnership working is key, so it is crucial to start early so you have the time required to engage with all relevant parties. By forming positive early partnerships, the Council had the time to get regular input and respond to great ideas.

Partnership development played a vital role, as through partners the council were able to use a co-design phase to develop the programme. It also led to partners offering additional support, such as the orchestra providing a free concert at Fulham Academy Trust, for years 7 & 8 and teaching staff.

Targeting key Business venues for support can have a real impact on the cost of venue hire. The Council engaged with Riverside Studios and the Hammersmith Lyric Theatre from the beginning and were able to gain their expertise as well as obtaining reduced venue costs.


Diana Edgecombe, Special Projects Manager

[email protected]

Members of the English Chamber Orchestra playing in a garden